A designer lessons ESL lesson plan developed by George Chilton

This is a lesson plan that starts with a discussion and ends with a speech. The aim is to engage your students and talk about topical issues – now, as the lesson progresses, it should come apparent that the speech and issues have been around for rather a long time. Feel free to chop and change it, it’s timed at about 2 hours + as it stands.

Lesson aims

Discussion of freedom as a concept
Listening comprehension and listening for detail
Grammar review – inversion
Word formation (grammar, contrasts)
Writing a speech using rhetorical devices


Ask your students to define the word “Freedom.” Tell them every opinion is valid – write answers on the board. Correct any grammatical mistakes.

Follow-up with – What recent conflicts resolutions and uprisings have come as a result of the desire for freedom?

(If you happen to be in one of these countries, use…carefully).

Stage one – ordering

Cut out and give your students the following sentences taken from a speech.  Ask them to put them in the correct order – it’s not an easy task, so make sure they justify their answers.

  • We all want to help one another. Human beings are like that. We want to live by each other’s  happiness, not by each other’s misery.
  • We don’t want to hate and despise one another. In this world there is room for everyone. And the good earth is rich and can provide for everyone. The way of life can be free and beautiful, but we have lost the way.
  • Greed has poisoned men’s souls; has barricaded the world with hate; has marched us into misery and bloodshed. We have developed speed, but we have shut ourselves in. Machinery that gives abundance has left us in want.
  • Our knowledge as made us cynical; our cleverness, hard and unkind. We think too much and feel too little. More than machinery we need humanity. More than cleverness, we need kindness and gentleness.
  • Without these qualities, life will be violent and all will be lost. The aeroplane and the radio have brought us closer together. The very nature of these inventions cries out for the goodness in man; cries out for universal brotherhood; for the unity of us all.
  • Even now my voice is reaching millions throughout the world, millions of despairing men, women, and little children, victims of a system that makes men torture and imprison innocent people.
  • To those who can hear me, I say “Do not despair.” The misery that is now upon us is but the passing of greed, the bitterness of men who fear the way of human progress. The hate of men will pass, and dictators die, and the power they took from the people will return to the people. And so long as men die, liberty will never perish.

Do not correct their answers yet, they will do this themselves when they listen.

Ask them to define the underlined words or phrases using the context. Write their definitions on the board and give them guidance where necessary.

Stage two – vocabulary and comprehension

Next, get your students to discuss what kind text they think it is and why. Hopefully they’ll tell you it’s a speech. Ask what rhetorical devices the writer uses to make an argument.

See if they can find the following:

  1. Rule of three – using three consecutive ideas to make a rounded point – for example “Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I may remember. Involve me and I will learn” – Confucius.
  2. Inversion –  to emphasis using unusual word order   “Never should you believe a crocodile’s tears.”
  3. Signalling – to mark the importance of the next phrase, “I tell you now…”
  4. Amplification – repeating a word or phrase and adding more detail to it, “I am a lion, I am a ferocious, blood-thirsty lion.” – some lion.
  5. Contrast – two opposite ideas in one sentence. “We enjoy freedom, not slavery“.

Suggested answers:

The rule of 3: – Greed has poisoned men’s souls; has barricaded the world with hate; has marched us into misery and bloodshed.

Inversion: – More than machinery we need humanity

Contrast: We want to live by each others’ happiness, not by each other’s misery

Signalling: – To those who can hear me, I say…

Amplification – Even now my voice is reaching millions throughout the world, millions of despairing men, women, and little children, victims of a system that makes men torture and imprison innocent people.

Get feedback from the students and guide them if necessary and follow-up on difficult vocabulary.

Stage Three

Ask the group the following questions:

  1. What kind of person gave this speech?
  2. Who was the audience?
  3. What issues does it touch upon?
  4. When do you think this speech was given and why?

They should discuss these questions in groups, then feedback to the class as a whole group.

Stage Four – Listening /  gap fill

The students should listen to the speech in two parts. First to check they have their sentences (stage one) in the correct order and second to fill in the gaps: Download the PDF  – The Great Dictator PDF gapfill. Also, if you wish to create your own version – the speech is readily available online.

Play video until 02.58 – (note the sentences above are slightly abridged).

Make sure all your students have correctly ordered the sentences. Find out their reactions – are they surprised that the speech was so old (C.1940)? Why / why not? How does the speech make them feel?

Part two  – play to the end. Students must then complete the  gap fill.

Ask the following comprehension questions:

  1. What do the dictators fear? (Human progress)
  2. What should soldiers fight for? (liberty)
  3. Who has the real power? (the people)
  4. In freeing themselves, what do dictators do to the people? (enslave the people)
  5. What effect does he says science and progress will have? (lead to happiness)

Discuss the questions as a group.

  • How far do you agree with the points made in the speech?
  • Is Chaplin still relevant today?

Stage Five – controlled practice

I’m including a couple of practice exercises you could use with your students. Have a look to see what else you can find online, so they can give it a go at home. If you find anything worthwhile, include it in the comments below.

Also, if you want to point your students in the right direction have a look at these websites; http://esl.about.com/od/advancedgrammar/a/inversion.htm , http://www.scribd.com/doc/38695972/1-Inversion-Grammar-Rules

Inversion – Have the students practice writing their own examples (suggested answers in italics)

  1. I’ve never driven such an expensive car. (Never have I driven such an expensive car)
  2. I only understood the issue when he explained it. (Only when he explained the issue did I understand it.)
  3. I’d barely sat down when the phone rang. (Barely had I sat down when the phone rang.)

Contrast (finding the opposite noun)

  1. We need law, not __________. (lawlessness)
  2. A leader must be decisive, not _________. (indecisive)
  3. Friendship is about trust, not __________. (distrust)

You might also want to mindmap some ways of “signalling” with your students, and also perhaps ask them to give you some more examples of amplification.

Stage SixFollow up / homework

Students write a speech on a topic of their choosing – including the five rhetorical devices they looked at previously.

Mindmap some topics together and get each student to speak about something relevant to their lives.

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Designer Lessons by George Chilton is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.